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About Mei-Ann Chen

The Taiwanese-born conductor Mei-Ann Chen has risen to leadership positions with several important American orchestras. She is one of just a few women to reach this level in the U.S., and virtually the only one of Asian descent. Chen was born in 1973 and grew up in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. As a child she studied violin and piano, and became a self-taught trumpeter. From the age of ten she had the desire to become a conductor, although her parents, seeing no career path for a woman in the field, discouraged her. Chen moved to the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, studying violin but also serving as assistant conductor of the school's chorus. In 1989, she played for American conductor Benjamin Zander in a hotel bar after a concert by the American Youth Orchestra and impressed him enough to score a scholarship to the Walnut Hill School, a preparatory institution associated with the New England Conservatory of Music. She remained at the New England Conservatory through the master's level, earning dual master's degrees in violin and conducting. Still having her heart set on conducting, but failing to receive any job offers in the field, she went on for a doctoral degree at the University of Michigan, studying with Kenneth Kiesler and Martin Katz, and conducting several campus orchestras and the Arbor Opera Theater in the surrounding city of Ann Arbor. In the early 2000s, Chen's career began to develop. After participating in several conductor showcases, including one with the National Symphony Orchestra, Chen became conductor of the Portland Youth Philharmonic in Oregon in 2004. She bonded with the orchestra's young musicians and turned down a post with the Oregon Symphony while she was there, leading the orchestra on an Asian tour where her parents saw her conduct. After winning the Taki Concordia Fellowship, established by pioneering female conductor Marin Alsop, in 2007, she left Portland for an assistant conductor position at the Atlanta Symphony, and then another assistant post with the Baltimore Symphony. Chen became music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra in 2010 and served two three-year terms there; she later held the title of conductor laureate. In 2011, she became conductor of the Chicago Sinfonietta, where her contract has been extended through 2019. That year, Chen became principal guest conductor of the recreation-Grosses Orchester Graz in Austria. Chen has led the Chicago Sinfonietta in two albums for Chicago's Cedille label, Delights & Dances (2013) and Project W: Works by Diverse Women Composers (2019). ~ James Manheim